Gray Hair and a Warm Heart are Keys to a Happy Life

Happy parishioners

The longer we live, the more chances we have to touch other’s lives if we can only learn to age properly. (Photo by Joonas Tikkanen, Flickr)

Several weeks ago, I was hanging out with my friend Chris. He’s young and gregarious, and we make each other laugh. At 24, he sees the world through a different lens than I do now that I’m in my 40s, but that is what time will do for a person. 

We were walking down the street and we encountered this guy who was working in his yard. He was handsome and fit, even if his hair was mostly gray, and I thought as we walked away that he was probably about the same age as me.

Then Chris said something that totally took me aback. “He was nice… but kinda old.”

I stopped dead in my tracks. “Excuse me? I was thinking he was my age!”

“No way,” Chris said, obviously thinking I was younger than my years. Although I appreciated the compliment, the incident seemed to rattle around in my brain for days.

Then a few days ago, my wife noticed a few gray hairs sprouting at my temples. I always said that no one would ever know when I got older because I would do something about it. But coloring my hair no longer seems as important as it once did. Why is that, do you suppose?

Well, last weekend, my friend Paul lost his father, Emmanuel, in death. Paul’s family is originally from Nigeria. Heather and I grew close to Paul and his wife when we lived in Ohio, and had met the family patriarch there a couple different times.

Even though we didn’t know Emmanuel very well, we attended the memorial service out of love and respect for Paul, and we were so glad we did. As family and friends spoke about their experiences with him, it was obvious that he lived life with an open heart, always happy to share his hard won wisdom, his faith, and his life with those around him.

Total strangers became friends and even came to call Emmanuel and his wife Mommy and Poppy. Others grew up watching him from childhood, and he taught them to stand on their own two feet, yet they always knew he had their back. Thus, they never saw Emmanuel for his age, but for his heart, and it was evident just how much they would miss him.

Heather and I have both been blessed to have wonderful friends like that. At times we have joked that we need to start making younger friends because so many of ours are now in their 70s, 80s and beyond.

But here’s my epiphany, my “aha! moment,” as it were. When people live authentically and spend a lifetime bolstering, teaching, and loving others, their gray hair (or even their lack of hair) isn’t what people remember. Even in the midst of this youth-centric society we live in, we love and remember people for their heart above all else.

Finally, as if these other incidents weren’t reminders enough, we just watched the new Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway movie, The InternIn the film, De Niro plays Ben, a 70-year-old retiree who goes back to work at an internet startup as an intern, only to become “everyone’s favorite uncle.” I loved that!

I always say that life whispers lessons in our ear when we need to hear them most, and life’s obviously had a lot to say lately. So the gray hairs? They don’t matter. The offhanded comments aren’t important.

The lesson here is that if we are brave enough to live with our hearts wide open, nurturing those we cherish, and accepting those who are different, we will age gracefully. And when we are old and wise, people won’t see our hair or even our wrinkles, but they will feel our verve and hear the steady, rhythmic beating of our hearts even long after we are gone.

Live well!


About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

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